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Why California Chrome’s Improbable Ride Inspired Us

I set an alarm on my Blackberry to remind me to watch the Belmont Stakes. Like millions around the country I was rooting for California Chrome to win the Belmont and claim the illusive Triple Crown.

My head said it was unlikely but my heart said well, why not – wouldn’t that be just wonderful.

Chrome’s story is the story of America. Born of humble origins, smart, determined – a risk taker who worked hard and ultimately “made it big”.

Beaten but not defeated by a horse of the so-called 1%.

There’s nothing humble Tonalist’s pedigree. He’s a result of the best horse breeding science money can buy. The Belmont winner’s DNA is a who’s who of thoroughbred horse racing.

Why Not Level the Playing Field?

Robert S. Evans, his owner, is a multi-millionaire corporate CEO and heir to a notorious corporate raider of the 1960s. The younger Evans owns one of the country’s premier horse racing operations. His Belmont Stakes strategy was drawn straight from what he’s learned on Wall Street – i.e. winning matters more than winning on a level playing field.

Some have criticized Chrome’s co-owner, Steve Coburn, for his post-race comments. Mr. Coburn argued that it was “cowardly” to hold Tonalist out of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness to keep him fresh for Belmont.

The comment implied that Mr. Evans knew that Tonalist could not compete effectively for the Triple Crown. The smart money making decision was to set him up to be a potential spoiler at Belmont.

Mr. Coburn wasn’t guilty of “bad sportsmanship” as many claimed. Au contraire – in the heat of the moment he spoke from the heart of middle class America.

A fresh horse winning the Belmont Stakes against a horse who had won two grueling races in the past four weeks isn’t in the best tradition of American sportsmanship.

American sportsmanship is based on the premise that it does not matter where you come from. Anyone can succeed – based on skill and a little luck – as long as the playing field is level and the judging fair.

Big Surprise: 1% Live by a Different Set of Rules

To millions of Chrome supporters — Tonalist’s owner didn’t cheat, but the race wasn’t fair either. The race confirmed our underlying suspicion the 1% live by a different set of rules than the rest of us.

We will never know whether California Chrome would have won the Triple Crown if — as Steve Coburn suggests – only the 20 horses that competed in the Kentucky Derby could go on to the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes competition for the crown. But we do know that it would have improved his odds.

What a wonderful, hopeful moment that would have been for the whole country. What a testament to hard work and big risks! What an omen for America.

But it wasn’t to be. Instead Tonalist, with his French trainer – pampered and privileged — reminded us of everything that is not equal about America. Nothing was left to chance – everything calculated for momentary advantage.

Money begets money, after all.

Horse racing is still the Sport of Kings or corporate titans. The rest of us participate at our peril.

Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images

2021-02-02T06:12:23+00:00June 16th, 2014|0 Comments

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